2021 spring college football games: What to watch as Florida State, NC State and more hit the field this week


The COVID-19 pandemic prevented most teams from having spring games last year, which means that Saturday’s slate should be celebrated across all of college football. Seven teams — Florida State, NC State, Boise State, UCF, Northern Illinois, Troy and UAB — will all hit the field as they put a bow on practice sessions that go a long way toward solidifying depth charts ahead of fall camp.

Mike Norvell is entering Year 2 of his tenure at Florida State, while Gus Malzahn and Andy Avalos are kicking off their first seasons at UCF and Boise State, respectively. Those three coaches are all in similar spots in that none of them have the luxury of time from fan bases that expect plenty of success in 2021. 

What are the top storylines to keep an eye on this Saturday? Let’s break them down.

Who will be the signal caller for the Seminoles?

All eyes will be on senior graduate transfer McKenzie Milton as he looks to restart his career after missing two years to recover from a devastating injury at UCF. Milton was cleared to practice and has been working with the first- and second-teams during the majority of the spring. He is likely the front-runner for the position heading into the fall since he had plenty of transfer options before moving to Tallahassee. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Travis and redshirt freshman Tate Rodemaker will get snaps as well, while fellow redshirt freshman Chubba Purdy will be on the sideline after he was shut down last month in order to rehab multiple injuries. Will Norvell make a decision on who will be his No. 1 quarterback after spring wraps up? Of course not … especially since Purdy won’t see action. But it’ll be great to see what Milton is capable of and what the other two contenders have up their sleeves. 

NC State’s offensive depth

Devin Leary is back after suffering a season-ending leg injury in mid-October. The redshirt sophomore got off to a good start with 890 passing yards and eight touchdowns in four games before the injury. He’s the unquestioned starter in Raleigh. Beyond the quarterback position, it’ll be about building depth around him. Running backs Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person, Jr. — the Wolfpack’s top two rushers from last season — won’t play on Saturday, and it’s unlikely that their top three returning receivers will see a ton of action, either. That means that this is a perfect opportunity for coach Dave Doeren to build much-needed depth in the chase to be Clemson’s biggest threat in the ACC Atlantic. Offense drives the bus in modern day college football, especially when the Tigers reside in your neighborhood. NC State has the chance to develop its in a big way on Saturday. 

UCF on the Gus Bus

UCF hopped on the Gus Bus after Josh Heupel left to take the Tennessee job. Will Gus Malzahn, who spent the previous eight years at Auburn before being let go, get the Knights back to national prominence after a disappointing 6-4 season in 2020? He better. After all, his success at Auburn — one SEC title, two SEC West titles and three wins over Alabama’s Nick Saban — speaks for itself. Malzahn will have veteran quarterback Dillon Gabriel under center to run his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. But what will that offense look like? Malzahn was dismissed due in large part to his system’s predictability and his own inability to develop quarterbacks. There is not time to waste in Orlando, and Saturday will provide a good glimpse on what the foundation of his attack will look like. 

Boise State’s big change

Andy Avalos took over for Bryan Harsin this offseason, and his first order of business will be to lay the foundation of the program — specifically the Broncos’ offense. Veteran quarterback Hank Bachmeier and transfer Jack Sears are battling it out for the top spot under center, which will undoubtedly be the focus throughout the rest of the spring and into summer. But I’m more interested to see the mentality of the program. Harsin was such a mainstay and the Broncos were so physical in years past, and that has to be the case moving forward on the blue turf. Luckily for fans, Avalos’ defensive background at Oregon coupled with his familiarity with the program as an alum should allow for an easy transition to the new regime. That toughness in the trenches will be the primary factor if Boise State returns to the top of the Group of Five pecking order. 





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